What to Wear for The Mud Run

[Part Two of a Three-Part Article on the Mud Run]

Thanks for the tips on how to train for the Mud Run, but what do I wear?  Well, let’s start from the top and work our way down.

Head Wear nothing.  DON’T wear glasses, sunglasses, goggles, hats, headbands or anything else on your head.  You will almost certainly go completely underwater several times and are just asking to lose anything like this.  Neckties and capes might make a fine fashion statement but safety nerd me sees them as a choke hazard.

Wait, what if I’m blind without my glasses?  Join the club.  I wear a pair of disposable contacts during the race.  Afterwards, I make sure to have a bottle of saline to flush my eyes and my glasses in the car.  I’ve just closed my eyes before dunking my head during the race and it has worked fine so far.  I do have to admit if mud works its way under the contact is isn’t fun, but I don’t know a better option other than Lasik.  Goggles would be a disaster.

Ok, let’s continue with the list.

Chest Some guys go shirtless and some women wear a sports bra.  These are usually the folks that are photographed the most.  The vast majority of people wear a team shirt.  I recommend a technical T (polyester) instead of cotton (alternate Amazon link).  They stain just as bad as cotton (a badge of honor) but they dry a lot faster which means they have the potential to weigh less during the race.  On top of that, they are cheap and durable.  You can get them in a multitude of colors from Target for about $7 at the time of this writing.

Technical T Sheds Water Quicker

Legs If you are running an Original Mud Run event (like the Jacksonville MS Mud Run), you will be required to wear long durable pants.  Do not be tempted to purchase cotton military/camo pants.  Those things turn into lead bricks when they get wet and the pockets fill with water.  You’ll sound like a kid’s swimming pool and be 10 pounds heavier after the first water obstacle.

Instead, I recommend something that doesn’t absorb any water at all.  Our team uses 100% nylon hiking pants.  They are extremely lightweight, absorb no water, and the pockets are mesh on the inside.  We’ve worn them multiple times hiking and through two Mud Runs and they show zero signs of wear.  They come with a nylon webbing belt (handy for keeping them around your waist instead of your ankles).  They are cheap too.  We got ours at REI’s Outlet website for about $14.  You can currently buy the exact same pants at Gander Mountain for about $20 (alternate Amazon link).

100% Nylon Pants – Tough & No Water Absorption

NOTE:  If you do end up with water-trapping pockets, you can either poke holes in the bottom of them or remove them completely.

No matter how tempting, do not tie or velcro the drawstring at the bottom of your pants or, worse, duct tape them closed.  Water will work its way into your pant legs and will remain trapped making lovely ankle weights.

Feet Get socks taller than your boots but as short as possible.  The taller the socks, the more water they’ll hold when wet and the heavier they’ll be.  We wear hiking socks that are made out of a blend of different kinds of fibers.  Some folks like 100% wool.  Whatever you do, avoid cotton socks as they will promote blisters.

Hiking Socks – Thick – Not Too Tall – No Cotton

Again, assuming you are running an Original Mud Run event, you will be required to wear over the ankle boots if you plan to run competitively.  For 2011, they allowed non-competitive teams to run in shoes instead of boots but I don’t know if this exemption will be permanent (everyone had to have boots in 2010).  Whatever the case, you want to wear boots

But why do I need to wear boots?
1.  It’s part of the rules.
2.  Ankle support.
3.  Aggressive treads give better traction.
4.  Shoes will get sucked off your feet and eaten by the mud.

I’ve lived in Florida for many years and I was unaware of just how sticky the mud can be around here.  In some of the deeper mud obstacles it feels like you are dragging small children that are actively trying to pry your shoes off your feet.  Do everyone a favor and wear boots so you don’t have to stop and dig your shoes out of the mud.

You can go with combat boots but there are much cheaper, lighter and more comfortable options available.  You don’t need world-class hiking boots or bomb-proof work boots.  Think high-top basketball shoe with an aggressive tread for gripping slippery ground and you are shopping in the right direction.

We purchased ours at Rack Room Shoes for about $13 on sale.  Others have had success at Target.  This is not world-class footwear by any means but it has held up for two runs.  Admittedly, the super cheap insoles have started to dissolve now that they have been washed twice but they are still functional and will be used again next year.

Cheap-o Boots – Light – No Break in Period – Over the Ankle

Do not wait until the last minute to buy your boots either.  For the last two years, places around town have sold out in the weeks just before the race.  We had one teammate who had to resort to a pair of leather steel-shank work boots.  Those things weighed more than Melanie and my boots combine and they blistered her feet so badly that she was more comfortable running in her socks.

What about esprit de corps?  That definitely factors in to your clothing.  Unlike most other races in Jax, costumes/uniforms are the norm not the exception for the Mud Run.  They don’t have to be expensive.  Just come up with a name and a look that reflects the spirit of the team.

We’ve always taken the cheapest route with a white shirt that has our team logo screen printed on it (do it yourself) but some teams will wear an entire matching uniform.  They range from the serious police and fire fighter teams to the silly.  We’ve run with guys in business suits and a man and woman team dressed as bride and groom.

On a personal note, because the race is “dirty” folks feel the need to come up with extremely crude names.  Maybe I’m becoming an old man, but when I see names that aren’t even a play on a crude word or sex act but are the actual words verbatim, I’m not happy.  Spend just a little time thinking about your name before you sign up and I think you’ll come up with something much funnier than team “Hey, We Smell Like @#$%.”

It bears repeating.  Figure out your team name before you go online to sign up for the race, Mr. Team Captain.  I imagine that a lot of people don’t think through the fact that they are going to have to provide a team name when they are registering until they are halfway through the process and then they pop in the first thought that crosses their mind.

Ok, Mr. Sensitive.  I’ll work out my team name before I sign up.  Any other gear to consider?  I strongly recommend wearing good waterproof sunscreen.  You’ll also want a complete change of clothes, a plastic bag for your dirties and two junky towels – one to dry off with and one to sit on for the ride home.

I suppose you could wear gloves but you don’t really need them.  Your knees will probably get a little chewed up when you crawl around but kneepads would just get in the way.  Leave them at home.

If you’ve got some favorite piece of equipment for the Mud Run that I’ve not mentioned, be sure to list it in the comments below.

The third and final installment will be coming soon.  I’ll wrap things up with a few miscellaneous tips for the making the most of the Mud Run.

You can find all of my other mud run articles here.

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10 thoughts on “What to Wear for The Mud Run

  1. What do you do with your shoes during a swim portion of the race
    My last event had a 1/4 mile swim that about did me in
    No way to leave a different pair of shoes on the other side either
    I wore a ventilated trail shoe that is waterproof – but still a lot of weight while swimming

    Thanks

    Barry

    1. I’ve never done one with a dedicated swim like that. If there has been any swimming involved it has been just crossing a pit of water or navigating a culvert.

      You might get some tips from triathletes, but I’m not sure that even they can help since they usually swim barefoot, clean off their feet, and then put on fresh shoes at the end of the swim. As I see it you have two issues wearing shoes: 1. When you swim you can imagine a bubble around you. Anything that introduces drag to this surface will really slow you down. That is why you see swimmers either wearing next-to-nothing or one of those newer body suits where the fabric actually has less drag than human skin. You shoes will increase drag. 2. Your shoes are adding weight to your body and, worst of all, it is out at the end of your legs where it will have the most impact.

      I think you don’t really have much choice but to wear them. You can look around and see what others are doing this time and learn from them. While I’m sure that your choice of shoe saves the most weight for a shoe that can stand up to a mud run, I don’t know if it would be my choice. I don’t think I’d want it open where rocks and sticks could get in it while I was running. I also worry that you will blister horribly running in shoes like that.

      I might consider a small waterproof bag I could wear on my back and put my running shoes or boots in that, but I worry that it would be incredibly awkward to swim with and I also worry about the time wasted taking off and putting on shoes. If I decided to go this route I would at least try it out in a pool first. If I was really concerned about my time, I’d swim it in the pool both ways and time it to see which was faster.

      If you come up with a great solution, please be sure to reply again!

  2. I’ve heard of people duct taping their shoes to their legs (around the ankle area, and around the shoe) to prevent “slip-off” and that it makes the shoes more water proof… What is your opinion? I’m doing my first Mud Run in March, and I’d like to get all the tips I can get.

    Thank You for your advise!
    -Ash

    1. I have heard of more folks having success with trail running shoes and even regular street running shoes recently. I think it must be that fewer courses use really deep and sticky mud. I know at least one of the runs here in Jacksonville has changed their course in this way. Some runs don’t even require boots anymore.

      All that is to say that it will depend on the specific course you plan to run. Kind of a stinky answer I know but you could get an idea from past participants in the exact run you plan to do, contacting the race coordinators, or even looking at pictures from the previous years at the particular event (assuming the course will be basically the same this year).

      If I was going to go into the race without any info, I’d stick with my cheap boots. I have seen people lose shoes in the mud. I would personally rather have a slower time but have more fun (not putting my shoes back on). I will tell you that you will unquestionably run faster in shoes than boots and if I knew I could wear shoes and that they would work on the course, I would. I would not care about keeping my feet dry. It will be nearly impossible. Imagine swimming in your footwear. This is what you’ll be dealing with. I wouldn’t duct tape my shoes to my feet. I’ve seen people do that with varying degrees of success, but most of the time it is a mess. You won’t keep your feet dry and if you need to re-tighten your laces or get a rock out it will be tough to do. One of the races I was in specifically forbid the use of duct tape.

      If you really want to know if your solution is going to work the best thing to do is find a creek, mud puddle, kids swimming pool, etc. and run through it a few times wearing your stuff. You have plenty of time to test it at least once and have everything to dry out before your race.

      Above all, as I mentioned in the article, I would never tape my footwear to my pants or tape the bottom of my pants closed. I can tell you from personal experience and watching others, that it is a guaranteed way to trap a lot of water in the bottoms of your pants.

      Good luck with your race!

  3. What about Vibram Fivefingers? Any thoughts on how they would work? My first mud run will be a filthy fun mud run, which I am not expecting to be very extreme.

    1. I personally don’t like those kind of shoes so know that I have a bias against them in the first place. I would think that that they would not be good at all for a race like this. Typically hiking boots are designed to minimize what you feel through the sole. Some even have a steel shank to keep them really stiff. With the FiveFingers I think you would feel every root and rock you stepped on. That being said, if you already own a pair find a running trail or a park around your house and give them a go. Whatever you wear is going to get wet so you might try running with them wet to see if they cause you to blister too.

  4. Hi! Thanks for all your advice! I’m doing my first mud run next weekend (it’s in Seven Springs, PA) but I live in Georgia. It’s a ski resort that uses the melting snow as part of its “course”. I have several questions to ask! First, I have no idea what the weather will be like! The past pics don’t help me at all (some show the participants freezing cold and other years they seem “warm”)! The one thing I know for sure is that they have “guaranteed” the water to be 32 degrees! My brother-in-law did this run last year and wore shorts and a t-shirt. He also mentioned that this year he wants to use something on his elbows and knees! HELP! I’m just so confused…and nervous! Being an experienced “mud runner”, I trust your opinion above all else! If YOU were doing this “Mud on the Mountain”, what would YOU wear? (From head to toes)!!! Here is what I was THINKING about wearing…(nothing has been bought yet)! Black long sleeve “Under Armor” shirt, Black long “Under Armor” work out “leggings”, and light-weight “good grip” shoes. Again- I’m just not sure about the shoes…I’m worried about “boots” being too heavy??? ANY advice you could give me would be GREATLY appreciated!!!! THANK YOU!

    1. Thanks for the kind words hannahsmom! I think you must be talking about this race: http://www.mudonthemountain.com/. I didn’t take the time to look through all the obstacles but it appears that many people have done this race in running shoes. That tells me there probably isn’t deep sticky shoe-eating mud, which you’ll appreciate. I think I’d look at trail running shoes that have a nice deep lug on them in hopes of getting some traction (but expecting to slip and slide). Something that is grippy will help. Some trail shoes/hiking boots are designed for long life and staying stiff. I’d look for something softer and stickier. You can test them out by standing on an incline at the store and seeing if you stay put. Some shoes will slip and some will grip. You’ll probably be going over wood walls and getting some grip on them with your shoes makes life a lot easier. It is rather last minute for you though and it looks like many people have done this run in plain ol’ running shoes. That seems like it would work fine (if you didn’t care about keeping them after the race).

      I’ve never done a cold weather mud run, but I can tell you that below about 50 degrees feels very cold to me running in shorts and a t-shirt unless I’m sprinting the entire time. Weather.com says you’ll be somewhere around that temp (maybe 60 if you run later in the day) AND you’ll be wet AND there is expected to be a little wind. If it was me, I’d definitely go with a long sleeve shirt and pants. In fact, I’d bring a running/warm up jacket too (just like the people in the some of the photos). Layers is good. You’ll be cold standing around before the race and you might even want to wear the warm up clothes during the race and discard them if you start getting hot. Make sure they are made from wicking or non-absorbent fabric (not cotton). I think you are probably going to be cold during this race though.

      Don’t forget a change of clothes at the end. If you are really cold, getting out of wet clothes will really help. You might even consider bringing a space blanket for after the race if you are really cold natured (like my wife). They hand them out after some of the colder half marathons and marathons we’ve been to and, although I don’t use them, they seem to help some folks.

      Depending on the obstacles, some form-fitting gloves might help. I wouldn’t wear kneepads. I’ve never had a pair that would stay put. When they start moving around, they are more trouble than they are worth. Your knees probably will be sore after the event though. It always seems like they take a beating.

      Good luck and be sure to share any advice or insight you gain after you run!

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